“The Rookie” is an unabashedly sentimental film in which a gruff father tells his son, “There are more important things in life than baseball,” and then the rest of the movie is devoted to proving that statement false.
The son is Jimmy Morris, and the grown-up version of him is played by Dennis Quaid, his squinting, smiling face inviting us into this old-fashioned “you can do it” story like a favorite uncle telling a campfire story.
Jimmy is a high school science teacher and baseball coach in the small town of Big Lake, Texas, having years ago failed his one serious attempt to be a professional ballplayer. He is not bitter, though. He loves his wife (Rachel Griffiths) and three adorable young children, and he’s well-liked at school and in the community.
His baseball team, though, lives in the shadow of the school football team — football is the real men’s sport in these parts, thank you — and no one tries very hard. Exasperated, Jimmy makes a wager with his players: If they win the district championship, he’ll follow their encouragement and try out for a professional baseball club. His pitching arm is still the cannon it was 20 years ago, so it’s not hopeless — but he doesn’t really think they’ll win the championship anyway.
Do they win? Does he try out? Does he make it? Well, duh.
This is not a genre known for surprising its audiences. You know approximately how it will end from the very beginning, and so the question becomes: Do you enjoy the journey? Do you like these people, and do you like watching their lives, even if the outcome is predictable?
In this case, my answer is yes. It’s a quintessential “feel-good” flick in that it, well, makes you feel good. But it’s not sappy or absurd. Nothing happens that is beyond the realm of normal human behavior or probability — no slow clapping by one person that evolves into a thunderous standing ovation, no sudden appearance in the stands by a person who inspires the hero to hit a miraculous last-minute home run. Jimmy’s little boy Hunter (Angus T. Jones) is cute and funny, but in a realistic way — the way kids actually are.
It is not manipulative, at least not in the bad sense. Manipulative movies yank emotions out of us that they don’t deserve. “The Rookie” earns the tears that may come at the end; it has shown us honest, sympathetic characters who deserve our compassion.
I do have some reservations. It is geared toward families, but it is more than 2 hours long, which will surely tax the patience of many children.
Even by adult standards, it is too long. It tries to tell too many stories — the team vying for the championship, Jimmy trying out, Jimmy’s strained relationship with his father, other events that would be spoiling it to mention here. They’re interesting stories, but it’s too much for one film.
Still, “The Rookie” is old-fashioned and friendly, and at times captivating. Anything we can do to encourage more filmmaking like this is a good idea.
B+ (; )